Wildfire torches four acres | AspenTimes.com

Wildfire torches four acres

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

WOODY CREEK A controlled burn on a Woody Creek ranch got out of control Wednesday and torched 4 acres before Aspen firefighters and a tanker airplane put it out. The fire burned near numerous multimillion-dollar homes on the ridge of Star Mesa, and within a mile of Starwood. The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department stationed fire engines atop Star Mesa for structure protection when it first responded. Two dozen Aspen volunteer firefighters and a small air tanker from Grand Junction responded to the fire, which burned out of control until around 1:30 p.m.

“The air attack was very helpful,” said Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob. “We got great cooperation from the Grand Junction dispatch because of the values at risk above the fire. At the time the fire was most active, we were getting upslope and upvalley winds.”The fire department called in a helicopter, but none was available this early in the fire season, so the tanker responded. Grob said the individual who started the fire had a permit for the controlled burn and called emergency when it got out of control at 11 a.m. Law enforcement said the fire started on the Craig ranch in Woody Creek.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Grob said, and negligence has not been ruled out. However, he said wind gusts of 15-20 mph likely blew the controlled burn out of control. Grob said the slope, wind and primary fuel source of serviceberry bushes factored in as causes. The steep slope was extremely difficult terrain for firefighters in full gear to work in. They used portable pumps with water from Woody Creek to advance lines and put out the fire. The fire burned up the slope from Woody Creek, and rapidly burned both east and west below homes on Star Mesa. Firefighters got a hose up along the west side and put that part of the burn out as the fire continued east. When the airplane dumped 700 gallons of fire retardant in two drops around 1 p.m., the fire was only moving east.

By 3 p.m., firefighters were cleaning up and leaving the scene. Though snowpack is low for this time of the year, experts don’t expect a severe wildfire season. “There is a sliver of heightened fire danger along the Utah-Colorado state line, but the pundits are saying this will be a fairly normal year,” said Bob Latey, fire management officer with the White River National Forest. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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